A Defiant and Determined Dog Learns to Listen and Respect Authority

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 12, 2015

Riley and Peanut

Over the years i have worked with all kinds of dogs and while they all needed help in one way or another, for me its usually not very challenging. Don’t misinterpret that as me saying i don’t enjoy helping dogs, i do immensely. Its just that many dogs have the same issues so i end up repeating many of the same corrections, communications and exercises over and over.

Well that certainly wasn’t the case with Riley, a one year old husky, lab and Saluki mix, pictured here on the left with her room mate, ten year old Peanut.

Riley’s owner reached out to me to help stop her defiance, constant chasing of Peanut and vocal protest when corrected or disagreed with. It only took a few moments before I could tell that Riley was not like the majority of dogs i work with.

Her owners had done a better job than most of my clients in establishing some rules and structure, but still Riley was doing as she pleased. She scratched her owners for attention, jumped up, showed a consistent level of excitement and was hands down the most vocal dog I have ever worked with.

Before we could really get started, it was clear Riley was so excited she was having difficulty controlling herself. I always give a dog a chance to settle down on their own, but after a few minutes of listening to her howl / bark combo, I pulled out a leash and attached it to her collar.

Usually attaching a leash will drop the dog’s energy level down a notch. Not Riley. She pulled, barked and howled as much, if not more than before so I dropped the leash and stepped on it a few feet away from her head. Riley plopped down and laid down beside me on the floor. I remained still and continued to discuss the situation with her owners while I observed her.

Riley laid on the floor for a minute or two before getting up and trying to move away. When she discovered that i was still laying on the leash, she flopped down again. I say flopped because the way she moved it was almost dramatic, as if she was making a statement. Since I am writing this the day after the session, I’m pretty confident now that she actually was speaking through her movement.

After going through some new communication methods and how to establish new rules and boundaries, I started to go through a leadership exercise I like to incorporate in many of my sessions. This exercise involves placing a high value meat treat in the middle of the floor, communicating that the dog is to leave it alone, then walking away from it.

As soon as I placed the treat on the floor, Riley attempted to get it which is pretty normal. I blocked her and made a sound to communicate that I disagreed with her attempt to snatch the treat. Riley let loose a barrage of barks and howls and didn’t let up. While I was able to get her to move away and was successful in completing the exercise, Riley obliterated the purpose or intent of the exercise.

The purpose of the exercise is to introduce the concept of boundaries, put the human in a leadership position from the dog’s perspective and let the dog practice controlling or restraining itself. It was obvious that Riley accomplished none of those things so I decided to switch things up.

I gave her owners a small handful of high value treats then had them sit at the far sides of the room so we made up a triangle. After showing her owners how to use their hand movement to entice and manipulate the dog to come and move into a sitting position, we took turns calling her.

At first Riley stood in front of me and barked for the treats in my hand. I crossed my arms over my chest and turned my head to the side to communicate that there was nothing for Riley here. She continued to bark in a demanding way for a moment but finally turned to look at her owner who was calling her. As soon as Riley looked in her direction, I had her lower her hand to bring Riley over.

Once the dog was in front of her owner, I had her raise her hand up and towards the dogs rear, moving her hand over Riley’s head moving in a diagonal direction. This movement caused Riley to look up and as she tracked the treat her movement put her into a sitting position. As soon as the dog was sitting down, I had her owner lower the treat and let Riley lick it off her hand while repeating the “come” command.

We practiced this exercise for a few moments allowing Riley to get accustomed to being rewarded for complying. This exercise conditions the dog to sit which is a less authoritative position. It also helps the dog practice following commands which helps define the proper leader follower dynamic.

Once Riley was recalling on command and sitting to receive her reward, I went back to the leadership exercise. But to avoid the verbal protests the dog used when we started, I tossed the treats into the far corner of the room then disagreed and blocked her using verbal cues while I stood away from the treats. At this point I was operating on pure instinct as I had never had a dog act the way Riley did.

The change in tactic proved a shrewd move. Riley still protested a bit at first, but since I wasn’t physically blocking her on between her and the treats, she was clearly confused as to how to proceed. After pondering things a bit, she calmed down some, then sat, then laid down. As soon as she laid down (which signified her giving up on challenging for the treats), I went over and gave her permission to have one of the treats I had tossed.

After getting the treat, I asked Riley to move away then repeated the exercise a few times. Riley protested less and less and even completed it a few times without barking or howling at all.

Because she is a high energy dog, I emphasized how important it will be for her owners to get her some regular constructive exercise every day. High energy dogs can get into trouble or develop behavior issues easier than other dogs if their physical needs are not met. I suggested that her owners take her out for a daily walk that lasts at least 45 minutes. Burning her excess energy in a disciplined way will go a long ways towards reducing her determined nature while making her easier to work with.

Riley is a VERY determined dog who was holding her authority or rank very tightly. Her owners will be challenged as they attempt to redefine the leader follower relationship so it will be extremely important that they stand their ground, enforce rules consistently and with good correction and outlast Riley any time she is defiant or uncooperative.

By the end of the session, Riley was calmer, responding to her owners lead and corrections better and even respecting new boundaries we had instituted. By focusing on the little things, enforcing new rules and correcting Riley before she gets too excited, her owners will be able to communicate the new behavior and manners they want from their dog. Once Riley no longer sees herself as being the head of the house and her energy is being drained, many of her bad habits will subside and eventually stop completely. This will make it much easier for their owners to teach her what they do and don’t want from her moving forward.

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